November 24, 2023

Saint Clement of Rome: the Great Apostolic Father

By Lambros Skontzos
One category of Fathers of our Church are called the "Apostolic Fathers". These are the disciples and successors of the Holy Apostles, who received our holy faith from them. One of them was Saint Clement, the Hieromartyr and third Bishop of Rome.

He came from Rome and lived at the end of the 1st century AD and was active during the reigns of the emperors Dometian (81-96), Nero (96-98) and Trajan (98-117). According to tradition, he was of royal descent.

His parents were called Faustus and Matthidia. Thanks to his noble origin and the financial comfort of his family, he had a brilliant education.

He learned the Greek language, thus becoming a communicator of Greek education and philosophy. In fact, his erudition and his philosophical training are evident in his writings.

We do not know details of his young life. Preserved for us only is the tragic event of a shipwreck, where Clement was miraculously saved. After that he met Christians in Rome, was catechized and baptized a Christian. He emerged as an important member of the Church of Rome, who preached with boldness and wisdom the principles and teachings of the new faith.

In 91 AD, at the request of the Roman Christians, he was made the third bishop of Rome. For the sake of history, we mention that Linus is mentioned as the first bishop and Anacletus as the second.

He proved to be one of the most important bishops of the ancient Church, distinguished by his morals, his deep faith in Christ, his many virtues, his zeal for spreading the gospel and his dynamic approach to problems. During his days a great number of pagans had been converted and the Church of Rome had become the most populous Church.

He had been informed that the Church of Corinth was troubled by strife. That is why he sent an important letter, with which he recommends unity and love to the Corinthians. This letter has survived to us and is included among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.

It is characterized by the power and determination of Clement to pacify the Church. It is also characterized by a deep knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and the apostolic tradition.

Saint Clement lived and acted in the era of persecutions against the Church, which the Roman state had raised, at the instigation of the pagan priests. The new faith, with its spiritual and crystalline belief in one God, seriously threatened the utterly decadent ancient pagan religion, which was also the official state religion.

Also the social teaching of Christianity seriously threatened the social structure of the inhumane Roman state. That is why Christianity was declared an illegal religion and Christians were silently persecuted.

The Church of Rome suffered more than the other Churches, living close to power. During the days of Saint Clement, a terrible persecution was going on. The pagans, seeing the great conversion of the multitude to the new faith, due to the action of the holy bishop, became alarmed and turned against him, to shut his mouth.

The Roman official Publius, during the reign of Trajan, paid and caused a stir among the people, putting the blame allegedly on the Christians and in particular on Clement.

He made a false accusation, propagating that the holy bishop cursed the "gods" of the empire and desecrated their temples, with other so-called Christians, who thus defended Clement.

On the charge of causing a stir they arrested him and brought him to the emperor for a defense. They tried to persuade him to deny Christ, but they labored in vain. Then Trajan signed his decree of exile and forced labor in a desert region of Cherson, on the Black Sea.

There, along with thousands of other Christians, he was forced to work, under miserable conditions, cutting marble, intended for the construction of pagan temples! The presence of Saint Clement comforted and encouraged the condemned Christians there. Cut up, hungry and thirsty, they endured the toils and tortures and glorified the true God for the honor that caused them to suffer for their faith in Him.

After a fervent prayer of the holy bishop, water sprang up at the place of martyrdom to quench the thirst of the Martyrs! He performed other miracles, which further strengthened the faith of the suffering Christians and converted many of his heathen captives to the new faith. Many residents of the area had converted with them.

This further enraged the fanatical pagans, who lashed out at the aged, sick and exhausted Clement. A certain emissary of the emperor, named Apheidianus, a fanatic and an idolater, furiously persecuted the Christians of the Cherson, seized Clement and subjected him to terrible tortures.

At the end he tied a rope around his neck, hung an anchor from it and threw him into the sea, to drown and sink his body, so that the Christians would not find it. So it happened. His faithful disciples Cornelius and Phoebus mourned on the beach, until the great miracle happened. The sea washed ashore the honorable relic, which they buried with honors. His memory is celebrated on November 24.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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